David Runciman, in delivering the first annual Princeton University Press in Europe lecture in London on Wednesday night (http://www.goodenough.ac.uk/fileadmin/docs/Alumni/PUP_lecture.pdf), posed an extraordinarily timely question with the title of his lecture “Can Democracy Cope?”. The lecture was an intellectual tour de force, with Runciman distinguishing two prominent schools of thought on democracy, the “confidence trick” view that democracy is essentially a sham, and the “confidence trap” view that democracy is actually too successful and therefore becomes complacent. In Runciman’s memorable paradox, the “trick” is that democracy is too good to be true, while the “trap” is that democracy is too true to be good.
Runciman explored the “trap” view in detail, arguing that this view originates in Tocqueville’s highly prophetic view of democracy, as destiny but also as complacency. In this melancholy view, it will be difficult for democracies to escape the confidence trap.
David will explore this theme in more detail in his forthcoming PUP book, The Confidence Trap (2012).
If you missed the lecture, there is a terrific overview of the arguments in David Runciman’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week programme, a review on the Enlightenment Economics blog, and an article “In Praise of David Runciman” in the Guardian.
The Princeton University Press in Europe lecture series provides an international platform for discussion of ideas that enrich scholarly communities and inform public discussion of important issues. Future speakers include economist Paul Seabright of the University of Toulouse (2012), biologist Sunetra Gupta (2013) and religious historian Diarmaid MacCulloch (2014).
The Princeton University Press in Europe lecture marked the inauguration of the Press’ European Advisory Board, a distinguished group of scholars, journalists and writers who will work with us to publish the most exciting and intellectually ambitious work possible (see the PUP European Advisory Board PDF for a list of our collaborators).